Jeremiah’s Message to Today’s Church Leadership

“If it feels good, do it!” 

 This has been one of the mottos of our culture since the 1960’s.  Now it seems that the American church has adopted a similar pragmatic motto:  “If it makes people feel good, we should use it.”  Today we see church leaders of every persuasion trying all kinds of new things.  If it works in drawing more people into services then it “works” and it must be good, right, and stamped with the very approval of God Himself.  But is it?

One of the things we should remind ourselves…
is that God was VERY specific regarding how he was to be worshipped.  He gave Israel precise details on what they should do in worshipping Him, what they must not do, when they were to worship Him, where they were to worship Him and how they were to worship Him.  It seems that God unequivocally knows how He wants to be worshipped and cares enough about it to give us the details.

A re-occurring theme in the Old Testament is that the people of Israel continually fell into idolatry.  God demanded that they worship Him alone, but they almost always came up short!  God summarized their condition in the following verse:

“My people have committed two sins:  They have forsaken me, the spring of living water, and have dug their own cisterns, broken cisterns that cannot hold water.”    Jer.2:13 NIV

Notice the two aspects of Israel’s guilt:  First, they abandoned or forsook the true and living God.  Secondly, they did their own thing and worshipped in their own way.  The cisterns are a vivid illustration of Israel’s love for worthless gods.  They dug their own i.e. they worshipped other gods of their choosing, and they were broken i.e. they were worthless gods who could do nothing and were no gods at all.

What I find instructive is that they did not think they were doing anything wrong.  In other words they didn’t think they had abandoned God.  You see, they simply added these idolatrous practices to their temple worship.  They continued to go to the temple and worship God there, but they also did the other stuff.  Read through the Books of Jeremiah and Ezekiel and you will discover the people were very religious.  They worshipped God the way they thought they were supposed to and they also took things into their own hands.

I try not to be too harsh on the people of Israel.  It is easy to look back now and say, “How could they?” but I don’t think it was easy at the time for them to realize what they were doing.  People were uneducated, and relied heavily on their leadership for direction and guidance in these matters.  What kind of leadership did they have in Jeremiah’s day?  Here is God’s assessment:

“A horrible and shocking thing has happened in the land:   The prophets prophesy lies, the priests rule by their own authority,  and my people love it this way.  But what will you do in the end?”  Jer. 5:30-31

The spiritual leadership of the people proclaimed things as true that were false, and they were doing their own thing i.e. ruling by their own authority, not Gods.  The result:  The people loved it!  Let that sink in for a moment.  The people LOVED it!

There is a very instructive lesson for today’s church leaders in Israel’s history of idolatry:  We should examine our own practices very carefully, for perhaps we have become just as guilty as they were.  Today, we can look down the long lense of history and see that Israel’s practices were obviously wrong.  But living in the actual moment, they apparently could not see the magnitude of how wrong they were.  I think we should at least have the moral courage to look at what we call a “worship service” and ask ourselves if we are being faithful to what God wants.  Or, like the spiritual leaders of their day, are we doing our own thing?  And by doing our own thing, are we leading our people astray?

This is not just a question that church leadership should be asking.  Every faithful follower of Jesus Christ should be asking the same questions about their own lives as well as the congregation they belong to.

If Israel, God’s chosen people, could fall into idolatry over and over again while maintaining the appearance of a temple worship “service”, we should not think that we are immune to it. 

Those are my thoughts on the subject.  What about you?

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About Jim

Not For Itching Ears is a blog dedicated to discussing the American Evangelical church. It is a place for people to share their thoughts on a host of issues relating to this subject. Jim is available to speak at weekend services, and retreats at no cost to churches in Florida. Contact us for more information.

Posted on November 13, 2010, in Church Leadership, Contemporary Church Culture and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 7 Comments.

  1. Thank you for sharing on this topic. I have felt this way for some time about corporate worship. It seems that the church is almost committing idlatry with the songs we sing in church. So many times the words are about “Me” We sway to the music, close our eyes and sing about ourselves. Doesn’t that border on Idolatry? I am quite concerned about this.

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  2. @ Misa….. Can you elaborate a little more on your comment? I understand your concern as I am one that worries about the american church that is very “me” oriented as well, but I also do not see idolatry when we are singing about what the Lord has done for us. Maybe I am just not aware of some of the songs that you are referring to.

    Honestly, I think a bigger issue is how we have tried to turn the Lord of the universe into some type of genie that exists only to bless us and make our lives comfortable. We are his servants, not the other way around.

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    • I will be adding a new post with some thoughts about contemporary worship songs soon. However, I will say that I have become very concerned with the lack of substance in the lyrics. I don’t know think I would go as far as Misa. Thanks for sharing Little D!

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  3. Hi “D”, The worship leaders at my church have us singing non-sense songs. I can’t give any specifics off the top of my head. But, we sing about ourselves a lot. I guess what I was trying to say is that if we are the subject and topic of what we sing about, by definition we are not singing to him. unless we are singing to him about our lives. I don’t want to sing about myself at church. I think it can be idolatrous if while engaing in worship, focus on something other than who is being worshipped.

    I agree with you about god being a magic genie. He isn’t, but it seems that is how he is portrayed.

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  4. Our purpose is to worship the one True, living God. Psalms is filled with commands and encouragements for us to play our instruments and to play them skillfully, so I don’t have so much an issue with a talented band or musicians as I do with a worship leader that does not teach and encourage the church to worship God in spirit and truth. You are correct in saying that many places now are more focused on the “show” than they are on actually leading folks into the presence of the almighty God. Having the title Worship Leader does insinuate that you are to lead the people somewhere does it not?

    I had a very interesting conversation with the guys in my Friday morning prayer group about how a certain church in town was making such a difference by doing this or that and I think that I was a bucket of cold water on them as I shared that the unchurched were not only not aware of our fabulous ministries, but that we as the church were not even on their radar. As one that was not raised in the church, and did not become a believer until my early 20’s I am constantly amazed at how many Christians think that they are making a difference when they are doing absolutely nothing at all. The world in america does not care what we have to say because we have no meat or gravitas because we say that we believe one thing, but the way we live our lives says something completely different. Add this to the fact that most non-believers could care less about what we have to say or that they are not even aware that we exist other than what they hear on the news and that is usually bad. Before God got ahold of me, I did not ever even think about Christians or church, they just were not worth my thoughts.

    Very sad indeed. It has taken me almost 30 years of American Christianity to come to the realization that I was no different than most American Christians in that while I professed to be a Christian, my priorities and my deeds betrayed my confession of faith. After losing everything a few years back, both my wife and I have come to the sober conclusion that we have been living for ourselves and have made major changes in how we conduct ourselves and have tried to re-prioritize our lives in such a way that we have and are making Gods will for us the first priority that we are trying to seek. I want the last half of my life to have more eternal value than the first half. Having said this, it would do many Christians good to hang out with some non Christians for awhile. Most Christians that I know never even have contact with non-Christians other than at the Grocery store. Everyone that they associate with is a “Christian”. If we are not associating with non-Christians, how are we to ever get the opportunity to minister to them? We cannot be light unto the world if we keep our lamp under a basket.

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  5. “D”, I am so glad you took the time to share about the journey you have been on. So thanks! You said:

    “It has taken me almost 30 years of American Christianity to come to the realization that I was no different than most American Christians in that while I professed to be a Christian, my priorities and my deeds betrayed my confession of faith.”

    I think this is a very typical conclusion that many of us come to. And that is the point of this post. If so many of us after years of being in the church reach those same conclusion, could it be that there is something wrong with the the way we do church in the US?

    Could it be, that we, just like the Israelites of old have veered off course? They attended temple “services” and yet were living pagan, idolatrous lives. It was so bad, that He sent them into captivity! God put the blame for that squarely on the shoulders of the religous leadership of the day.
    The people were guilty for their own actions, but God held the leaderhsip responsible.

    I think the main problem that the church faces is that it is in the process of fumbling the Gospel and in some cases has dropped the ball all together. You can listen to one of my messages on this topic called “Staying On Message.” It is in the audio link. You can all read an older post “Whatever Happened to the Message of The Cross?” to understand my view better.

    Thanks for your thoughts, I truly appreciate them!

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